‘Dialectograms : Glasgow'
Dialectograms are documentary/psychogeographic drawings of places in Glasgow that are marginal, under threat or disappeared. They borrow from ethnography and graphic art to depict collective histories and understandings of space. Mitch Miller is currently undertaking a practice-led PhD at Glasgow School of Art to explore the idea further.
I coined the term dialectogram to describe large documentary drawings of places in the city, made from the perspective of those who inhabit them. They use vernacular visual language that subverts the authoritative styles of traditional architectural floor-plans, maps and information design- they are to diagrams what demotic speech is to Received Pronunciation, hence the term ‘dialect-ogram’.
I am primarily interested in documenting hidden, marginal and threatened parts of Glasgow, places that often run counter to the official image of itself the city fathers like to present. Dialectograms try to give a fair hearing to travellers’ sites, doomed tower blocks, flea markets, intimidating pubs, sites of protest, areas that have become surplus to requirements.
In this vein, the drawings show the psychogeography of a place, the relationship people have with it, and their connections and relationships within each other. I start with a floor or ground plan then fill this ‘shell’ with its soft centre, the furniture, objects, people and the stories that accrue there. I visit the site many times, speak to everyone who is willing, record environmental details and collect stories about it which become the labels that explain what the place is. I stick to a fairly limited set of tools; black ink, occasional colour on A0 mount-board. I usually draw and add layers of detail until I have to stop, or can’t go any further. The original of the drawing is then taken for the collection of the People’s Palace in Glasgow, while high quality prints are given to the people who collaborate on the drawing. Prints are then made into display tables, placed online using ‘zoom’ software and even laser-engraved into wood.
Mitch Miller is currently undertaking an AHRC-funded practice-based PhD at Glasgow School of Art, and has been a visiting lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art and the University of Glasgow. An illustrator and writer, he co-founded the quarterly magazine The Drouth in 2001 which he has co-edited and published for over 10 years. He has written on a wide range of subjects, from the role of Travelling Showpeople in the early days of cinema to the documentary legacy of James Boswell. He is the co-author (and the illustrator) of Tartan Pimps: Gordon Brown, Thatcher and the New Scotland (2010) and The Red Cockatoo: James Kelman and the Art of Commitment (2011)
Mitch has a particular interest in the documentary possibilities of illustration. In December 2008 he responded to the proposed removal of his own community of Travelling Showpeople from Glasgow’s East end (where they are the largest minority group) to make way for the 2014 Commonwealth game by producing the first ‘dialectogram’, a highly detailed depiction of his family’s own Showman’s yard in Parkhead, showing the very detailed and intricate relationships, connections and usages of the shell of an old steel foundry by several generations of an extended family in an apparently abandoned space. Since then he has pursued an interest in documenting places that are hidden, marginal or soon to be ‘erased’ through the dialectogram style, moving onto the iconic and notorious Red Road Housing scheme to depict offices, flats, underground bingos and the memoryscapes of its residents. His ongoing project Glasgow Dialectograms (linked to his PhD study) sets out to document a number of spaces in Glasgow, with current subjects including a highly traditional Scottish pub, an ex-shipyard and a student union which was occupied in a long student occupation against planned cuts and changes to the academic system at Glasgow University.
Mitch Miller's work has appeared in The Guardian, The Scotsman, The Map, Art Review, New York Arts magazine, Diplo, Res, Urban Realm.
You can see and find out more about Mitch Miller's work on his member's page